If you’re in the process of putting together your will and estate planning documents or just getting started, you’ve probably come across a bunch of jargon you’re not too familiar with. One of the most important decisions you’ll be making is who to trust with carrying out your instructions – your executor. These people are incredibly important both in making sure your wishes are honored, but also in giving you peace of mind for the future. But what does an executor do exactly and how should you choose one?
What is an Executor?
Although the word “executor” sounds a little scary, it simply refers to the person you’re charging to “execute,” or carry out, the instructions laid out in your will. If you’re putting together a will, you’ll need to choose an executor.
What kind of responsibilities fall to an executor? They will be in charge of working with your lawyer to distribute your assets and pay any debts you owe. It also means working with the court through the probate process. If you have a solid will, the process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
How Do I Choose an Executor?
What qualities should an executor have? Whoever you choose as your executor should be trustworthy and responsible, especially when it comes to money. You’ll want to avoid anyone who has a troubled financial or criminal past, like having gone through bankruptcy or committed a felony, as a probate judge might not allow them to serve.
In addition to being responsible, it helps if your executor is a good “people person,” so they can help soothe any conflict that might arise. The right personality can help quell any arguments and make the whole process go more smoothly.
Common choices for an executor include a spouse, adults children, siblings or parents. If you’re concerned about family squabbles, it can be helpful to choose someone who is more of a third party to any potential conflict. If you’re concerned about fighting among siblings, for example, an aunt or an uncle might be a better choice for an executor.
It can be helpful to choose a beneficiary of the will as an executor – someone who you have named to receive a good portion of your assets. Because they have a financial interest, it can help to ensure that they will do their best to make sure the will is executed correctly.
In addition to your first choice, you’ll also want to name a second and third choice for executor, in case someone is unable to serve.
Further Help on Choosing an Executor
Ultimately, choosing an executor is a big decisions when it comes to your estate plan. You’ll want to consult with a lawyer to talk about the best options for your situation. For more details on choosing an executor, we also recommend the American Bar Association’s guide to Choosing an Executor or a Trustee.
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